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Queer views given to you straight


Queers, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until 3 October

In the programme, director Gennie Holmes describes the Criterion

“community” as “on the whole, white, middle-class and straight”.

Well, I guess I tick all those boxes and, to be honest, I wasn’t wildly

excited about going to a play on the subject of changing attitudes

to homosexuality over the past century or so.

I was, however, delighted that our beloved local theatre was

open for business again. So, suitably masked and socially distanced,

I took my seat more in hope than expectation of a riotously

entertaining evening.

The cast were even more distanced than the audience. Eight

monologues were delivered from a solitary table from which actors

paused and took a sip or swig of a drink every now and then –

everything from a flat-looking pint to a glass of champagne or a dry

sherry.

“None of your Harvey’s Bristol Cream,” a splendidly camp

Mark Jeffries shouted to the offstage bar staff. By then it was 1967

and homosexuality had finally been legalised, albeit only for those

over 21.

Making his entrance to the Kinks singing A Dedicated Follower

of Fashion, the tailor who dubbed himself “the Duchess of Duke

Street” was sporting a startling tartan suit with a red pocket

handkerchief and a wide-collared white shirt.

All too soon he was reminiscing about the good old days of

the Second World War when he’d worked as a rent boy. All those

black-outs. All those American soldiers. All those men coming out

with their true sexual feelings while they still had the chance of a

life.

The play starts in the previous war. Leigh Bartlam, sporting

the sort of moustache that became fashionable in gay circles many

years later, plays a khaki-clad Red Cross man infatuated by his

captain’s long eyelashes and “corn-yellow” hair.

They finally touch hands through a train window on a

crowded station where a weeping man is being taken away by

police. His name? Oscar Wilde. His crime? Gross indecency through

practising “the love that dare not speak its name”.

Well, its name and its nature is spoken of many times in these

monologues, every one of them delivered with distinctive style.

Lewis Goode gives an intriguing insight into what it was like to

be black and “queer” after arriving in London in 1938, a decade

before the Windrush and a year before the outbreak of war.

The Criterion’s artistic director Anne-marie Greene plays a

“straight” woman married to a man whose sexual leanings lie

elsewhere. He manages to make love to her just once in the first six

months.

That particular monologue is set in 1957, the year of the

Wolfenden Report’s conclusion that homosexuality between

consenting adults should be legalised. As we know, it took another

10 years before that recommendation became law.

Twenty years later came the outbreak of the Aids pandemic.

And nearly 30 years after that the legalisation of same-sex

marriage. Both are covered here not only with style but, in the case

of a potential Aids victim played by Ted McGowan, discernible fear.

Another F-word features at regular intervals but, thankfully,

there are no “scenes of a sexual nature”. After all, there’s only one

person on stage at a time. Eight monologues by eight different

writers are delivered by eight different actors – each one giving

thought-provoking resonance to their words.

A reminder, if it were needed, that the reopening of a theatre

can lead to the reopening of minds. Queers will be on at the Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until Saturday October 3.


- CHRIS ARNOT

Winner!